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On or About "Or"

Tips to Recognize Useless Words

About half the time I see the word “or,” what follows it merely repeats what precedes it; so there is no “or”; we’re just saying the same thing twice. Take this law firm employment agreement:


Your employment at Jones Garcia is “at-will,” meaning that either you or the Firm can may [See Tip: “Still Another Three Words Many Lawyers Misuse”] terminate the employment relationship at any time for any cause or reason.


“Cause” and “reason” are synonyms; dictionaries define each with the other. We don’t need both. Let’s write concisely, even when signing off on an email:


If you have questions or need further clarification, please let me know. 


If you have questions, it’s because you need further clarification; if you need further clarification, you have questions. Use either, but not both.


If you have questions or need further clarification, please let me know.


If you have questions or need further clarification, please let me know.

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We find the most common example of “or” mixed with unnecessary words in the phrase “on or about.” If the document filed was dated “June 30, 2013,” signed by counsel and dated again “June 30, 2013,” and stamped by the clerk “June 30, 2013, why do we still write, “On or about June 30, 2013, Plaintiff filed . . . .”? The situation will always be one or the other: either we will know the date, “On June 30, 2013,” or we will not know the date, “About June 30, 2013”; but we can’t know the date and also not know the date:


At or about the same time, Paulson terminated his agreement with Vitrex.


At or about the same time, Paulson terminated his agreement with Vitrex.


Just for fun, I googled “on or about means” and got 6.5 billion results in a quarter of a second. (And since I got the results back so fast, that gave me more time to sift through them all.) No wonder we’re confused.


So look for the “or” or look for the “or.” Either way, it will help you spot unnecessary words.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.

WordRake takes you beyond the merely grammatical to the truly great—the quality editor you’ve always wanted. See for yourself.

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How Does it Work?

WordRake is editing software designed by writing expert and New York Times bestselling author Gary Kinder. Like an editor or helpful colleague, WordRake ripples through your document checking for needless words and cumbersome phrases. Its complex algorithms find and improve weak lead-ins, confusing language, and high-level grammar and usage slips.

WordRake runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggestions appear in the familiar track-changes style. If you’ve used track changes, you already know how to use WordRake. There’s nothing to learn and nothing to interpret. Editing for clarity and brevity has never been easier.